Prompt: zany; blessed with suck
Dana woke to a room full of gray light. She wondered if it was dawn or dusk. She did not ask for a clock in her room, knowing she would only find herself staring at it. They had offered her any number of luxuries not available to the rest of the patient’s award, as penance, perhaps. Dana barely noticed that she had grown too old for the children’s ward; how could she blame the staff for forgetting as well? Sometimes, she wished she was back in her old room with toys and the too-small bed. The new one felt foreign, even more like a hospital.
They announced her room change with a note, passed along with her mail and lunch one day. They had a plan, the doctors and orderlies she never saw. They cleared a path for her from one room to the other. She moved her belongings herself. Then she closed herself up in a new jail cell, just like the old one. Along the path, other patients had rooms like hers, meant to keep them in at any cost. They watched her, alert to the tense air in the building, as she passed by. Even that, just a few seconds of eye contact and exposure, made their faces contort as their minds stuttered and ground to a halt. Even on the floor of a mental institution, Dana could make the delusional more insane.
Dana rolled out of bed and padded in slippered feet to the bathroom. They had to specially arrange a room for her that included one. Dana had not left her room, except to move, in six years. She had not spoken to anyone in that long, either. She got letters, from staff members who took pity on her or were paid well enough. She got books, borrowed through the doorway. They were the currency of her sanity. The mentally ill were the only ones who could bear to be exposed to her. She lived in solitude because she broke the minds of everyone around her, without knowing why or how.
There was a knock at the door. She would know what time it was by what food they passed through the little hatch in the door. There were days when Dana wanted to rush over and open her side before they could leave. She wanted to grab their hands and hold on. She did not know if that would hurt them or not. She just wanted to touch someone so badly. What she heard next, though, was not the little hatch opening, but the whole door.
Dana stood paralyzed as it opened. She thought she should run into the bathroom and hide there. This had never happened before. They had routines, circuitous and tedious, for when something needed to be fixed or replaced in her room. Nothing like this, though. She could not move.
The person came in and closed the door behind themselves. Dana thought it might be a woman, albeit one with cropped hair and a sharp, hard face and a simple suit. She stood regarding Dana calmly and that in itself was strange enough to hold Dana in place a while longer. “You’re not what I imagined,” she said, “from the picture in your file. What a difference six years make.”
Dana croaked when she tried to speak. That was just as well; she did not know what she would say. She became terribly aware that she had not spoken to another person in all that time. She did not talk to herself or swear aloud when she stubbed her toe. She lived, if not in silence, then wordlessly.
“It’s all right.” The woman came into the room and sat down at Dana’s desk. “It’ll come back to you in time.”
Dana coughed and tried again. “You should leave.” That was the last thing she wanted. She wanted to let the woman speak to her for hours or days. She wanted to touch her hands and her hair and her clothes. She couldn’t, though.
“Why? Because you’ll drive me crazy? You don’t have to worry about that. You can’t hurt me.” She held out her hand and Dana felt a surge of terror at the idea that the woman could read her mind. She flinched away. “That’s okay too.” The woman dropped her hand. “I can’t explain everything right now. We haven’t the time. But if you come with me, I can give you answers. About everything.”
Dana’s tongue could not move fast enough to keep up with her thoughts. Question she had in excess. She had time enough to herself to think of them. Why did she have this terrible influence over people? Who or what made her this way? How could she stop it? Who paid for her room and care, which she knew had to be ludicrously expensive? And now there were new questions. Who was this woman? How did she know about Dana? How was she able to remain in the room with her without succumbing to hallucinations and delusions? Where did she want Dana to go? Dana could not get out a sound.
“I know it’s difficult. It will get better. All I need to know right now is, will you come with me? Yes or no?”
Dana had thought she lost everything. Not just her family or her normal life, but the world, locked away behind a door she could never walk through without endangering everyone else. Now, her mind ached like a limb with pins and needles of returning circulation. There was a chance, however slim, that she would be part of the world again. It hurt to have something to lose, after so long with nothing. In a dry creak of a voice, she answered.